Governor Hickenlooper’s blue ribbon oil & gas task force folded up its traveling circus tent this week to dismal reviews. Even task force members gave it a thumbs down.
“We failed,” said Matt Sura, Boulder attorney and task force member. “We didn’t enhance local authority, we didn’t even clarify the authority they have.”
Oh Matt. That’s okay. We know you meant well. But as it turns that wasn’t the purpose of the task force.
Governor Hickenlooper’s blue ribbon oil & gas task force served its purpose last November when he was re-elected for a second term. And when Congressman Jared Polis won his bid for re-election in his district. The task force was never about enhancing or clarifying local authority over oil & gas drilling, or negotiating for setbacks. The task force was always about the re-election of Hickenlooper and Polis.
When you stop and think about it, the 21-member task force has been on a steady downward spiral from the get-go. Things got off to a rocky start when three members of the task force allowed themselves to be wooed in the Piceance gaspatch by the likes of WPX, Ursa, and WSCOGA.
The Rifle leg of their magical mystery tour is something we still chuckle over — “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Remember Tish Schuller and the Fake Outrage Players?The West Slope Way. We sure had a lot of fun with that one didn’t we? Oh gosh, I can’t make this stuff up.
Alas, no more poorly produced audio with voices that sound like they’re broadcasting from an empty stairwell, and whose speakers I can’t identify as they livestream over, around, and through one another, each with their own agenda. Sort of like if Escher’s “Relativity” had a soundtrack.
Excerpted and edited from the Denver Business Journal, these are the 9 recommendations:
No. 17 — submitted by Bernie Buescher, former Colorado Secretary of State, would call for new COGCC rulemaking requiring energy companies to consult with local governments when locating a new well in urban environments, and if the two sides couldn’t agree on the location then the issue would go to mediation, with both sides splitting the cost.
Buescher said his proposal wouldn’t change the authority of local governments, but would give both sides the opportunity — and the incentive — to settle disputes early in the process.
No. 20 — submitted by Pat Quinn, the former mayor of Broomfield, calls for oil and gas companies to register with the municipalities where they operate and share their best, good-faith assessment of their five-year drilling plans with local governments, so that those locations could be compared with the local master plan.
By comparing existing comprehensive plans with five-year drilling plans, problem areas could be identified early in the process, Quinn said: “My intent it to identify areas where there are conflicts in the comprehensive plan, and the question of how these conflicts will be resolved is the $64,000 question.”
No. 25 — submitted by Brad Holly, vice president of operations for the Rocky Mountain Region for Anadarko Petroleum Corp., would enhance the existing system of local government liaisons as the state and local government designees at the local level to increase communication between the state and local government on oil and gas issues.
No. 27 — submitted by four members of the task force, to increase COGCC staff by 11 people to work on field inspections, enforcement and permitting.
The proposal was submitted by Buescher; Elbra Wedgeworth, a former Denver city councilwoman and chief government and community relations officer at Denver Health; Russell George, the former speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives and former executive director of the state’s Department of Natural Resources; and Perry Pearce, manager of state government affairs for the Rocky Mountain region for ConocoPhillips.
No. 31B — submitted by Wedgeworth and Buescher, would increase staff at the state health department dedicated to monitoring oil and gas air quality compliance, create a new health complaint and information line related to oil and gas, increasing the department’s budget to buy a mobile air quality monitoring station, and to do a health study.
No. 41 — submitted by Perry Pearce, manager of state government affairs for the Rocky Mountain region for ConocoPhillips, would create an oil and gas information clearinghouse in the Colorado Energy Office.
No. 37 — submitted by Russell George, who also is the former head of the Colorado Department of Transportation, would have CDOT and the COGCC look at what can be done to reduce truck traffic related to oil and gas.
No. 49 — submitted by Wedgeworth and Buescher, to encourage the legislature to approve Senate Bill 15-100, a bill that gives legislative stamp of approval to all rules enacted by state agencies during the previous year.
Specifically, the Legislature should approve the rules the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s new rules designed to cut pollution — including methane leaks — from oil and gas equipment.
No. 52B — submitted by Rebecca Kourlis, a retired Colorado Supreme Court judge and executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, would have the COGCC start a program to help oil and gas companies comply with the state’s rules governing their operations.
Task force co-chair and LaPlata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt summed it up this way:
“Overall this is a big disappointment. We didn’t address the two big issues the governor wanted us to … There needs to be an effort in Colorado to address appropriate locations and local governments’ need for greater authority over siting and nuisance issues … I am disappointed. We really needed to do something for the people who are affected by these issues, and we really didn’t do that.”
Statement of Earthworks’ Energy Program Director Bruce Baizel —
“Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s task force was formed only because hundreds of thousands of Coloradans are outraged that communities cannot protect their homes or control fracking and oil and gas development within their boundaries. Because the task force’s recommendations don’t address these two issues, it must be judged a failure. And now we will see what hundreds of thousands outraged Coloradans will accomplish.”
From The Daily Sentinel —
Jim Ramey, executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community in the North Fork Valley, said the task force failed to address the issues that resulted in its creation — “increased setbacks between drilling locations and homes and schools, as well as increased local government control over oil and gas operations. Once again, we saw the oil and gas industry oppose common-sense safeguards and improvements to Colorado’s rules and laws. The heavy-handed approach by the oil and gas industry in Colorado just doesn’t work. People won’t stand for it, and I expect they’ll carry protective solutions to the ballot box in 2016.”
Leslie Robinson, chair of the Grand Valley Citizens Alliance in Garfield County: “If the task force process did anything, it has energized like-minded people and organizations across the state to realize they have common objectives. From Rifle to Greeley, we have strengthened our resolve to work collectively with the governor and the Colorado oil and gas commission for comprehensive, statewide regulations that will better protect our families, communities, and water resources.”
From the AP –
In a written statement U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder said: “While a strong majority of the (task force) rose to the occasion and supported common-sense measures to address these issues, unfortunately the oil and gas industry proved they weren’t interested in a compromise or solving the problem.”
From KUNC community radio —
Democratic State Senator Matt Jones of Longmont: “What [the task force was] charged to come up with is strong community protections, they got an F+, they’re talking about how it’s really a B, it’s not.”
Democrats like Jones said the 21-member group didn’t go far enough to address the concerns of communities living near energy development and essentially failed in its duty. He said individual cities and towns should be allowed to regulate industrial activities such as oil and gas drilling. For Jones, the lack of resolution from the task force only lends more unrest to the fracking debate.
“It’s basically the status quo and it’s very unfortunate,” said Jones. “I’m afraid they didn’t improve much of anything and people have the right to have strong safe guards at the local level …”
Please feel free to add your post-mortems in the comments section.